The magical rainbow mountains are located in Cusco, Peru high up in the Andes. The peak of the rainbow mountains has an altitude of 17,060 ft / 5,200 m above sea level. The city of Cusco sits at an altitude of (11,152 ft / 3,399 m). The rainbow mountains are called Vinicunca, Winikunka, or Montaña de Siete Colores by Peruvians. If you’re asking yourself “is it worth going to Peru’s rainbow mountains?” the answer is YES.
Rainbows and mountains are both beautiful. And I’m obsessed with anything colorful/shiny/that sparkles. So when I heard you could hike to a RAINBOW MOUNTAINS in Peru (rainbows + mountains = Chelsea’s favorite things) I knew I had to go.
Visiting Peru’s Rainbow Colored Mountains
I was nervous for the ascent up the mountain- Instead of acclimating like most people, I had been sick for a good majority of the trip from the altitude in Cusco (for whatever reason my body absolutely HATES altitude, and anything over 9,000 ft makes me nauseous and uncomfortable). This trek would be pushing my body to limits I’d never pushed it to before- and I worried these beautiful mountains could very well be the death of me.
How do you get to rainbow mountain?
The morning of the hike starts EARLY, or late if you want to look at it that way- the van picked us up from our Airbnb in Cusco at 2:30 a.m. We all instantly regretted not bringing a pillow for the 3-hour ride ahead of us. Blankets were provided for us, so we attempted to sleep on each other and catch up on some zzz’s (we didn’t get to sleep till 10 p.m after the Machu Picchu trip ). The rough ride made that difficult, and nobody got much sleep. I’m pretty sure there are more speed bumps in Peru than in the entire continent of South America…
We arrived at a village 15 minutes from the trailhead where we were fed a light breakfast by the locals. Breakfast consisted of bread, jams/butter, a plate of scrambled eggs, and some tea (it’s highly recommended you drink the coca tea- it will help with the altitude sickness). I was nauseous from the van ride and/or altitude so I skipped breakfast.
When we arrived at the trailhead around 6:30 a.m. we were at 14,000 ft and it was cold! Layers on layers were key to this trek. There were locals selling wool gloves, hats, scarves, parkas, and other souvenirs- a couple of people from the group bought some hats and gloves. We still had 2000 ft in elevation to gain and it was already cold.
I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to bring a tri climate coat. The peak is WINDY AND FREEZING and temperatures change quickly when you ascend the mountain. I promise you will be grateful for the different layers your jacket provides. I lost mine on the plane to Peru so I bought a light rain jacket at the Lima airport thinking “oh, well this will be fine over my shirt and sweatshirt.” WRONG. It did not serve me well. It was so cold at the peak that it was hard to enjoy the views. But I felt quite victorious at the same time.
Can You Ride Horses up the Mountain?
There were horses for rent that you could ride up the mountain for 60 soles (about $18 USD). SOLD. And that was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Half our group decided to rent horses, while the other half decided to brave the mountain on foot.
The horse came with a local guide who led the horse up the mountain for you- these guides were the real heros. They were wearing sandals on their feet- and made the trip up and down the mountain MULTIPLE TIMES A DAY, sometimes running past other hikers on the way down.
It was impressive and made me feel like a wimp on my horse- but then I’d try to take a deep breath, and considering I was having a hard time breathing just sitting there, I knew the horse was a wise decision.
Wildlife Along the Vinicunca Trail
Riding the horse up the mountain allowed me to relax, and enjoy all the incredible views along the way. These views included cuteness overload, with thousands of alpaca, llama, and farm animals.
Reaching the Peak
The horses do not go up the last quarter mile of the hike- the mountain is too steep, and the air is too thin- so you know what that meant? It was up to us to make it through the hardest part of the hike. Since we had left at 2:30 in the morning- we were the first tour group to arrive at the mountain.
There was only 4 people in sight, and we had the opportunity to be some of the first people up the mountain that day. So I moved as fast as I could before the other tour groups started arriving at the summit. The key was slow and steady, I would take 5 steps and be panting and out of breath.
Is hiking rainbow mountain hard?
The photo above doesn’t make it look very daunting, does it? I was so frustrated climbing up that hill I couldn’t breathe, my stomach was rolling with high-altitude nausea, and I was in tears just 10 feet away from reaching the top. Beyond miserable, I was ready to turn around to get more oxygen. I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it, thinking for sure I was going to die by asphyxiation right there on that mountain in Peru.
But Logan helped me get there. With short breaks every few steps up, his encouragement and support gave me the strength to pull through. We made it to the top together and it was more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.
When I finally took my last step to the top I collapsed to the ground, gasping for air, trying to catch my breath for a couple of minutes. I felt like a fish out of water. Finally, my breathing slowed- and as I lifted my head to look up at what I had just worked for a smile of pure joy spread across my face, and I knew instantly it was all worth it…
I mean look at all the hikers below.
**This hike is extremely difficult for all levels of fitness, due to the high altitude and low oxygen levels. Please consult with your physician if you have any questions. It is recommended that hikers do not spend more than 30 minutes at the peak (the air is too thin)**
Arriving at the Peak of rainbow mountain
Making it to the top of the peak was a huge accomplishment for me. I fought through physical and mental exhaustion not allowing myself to give up (believe me, I wanted to) Everyone cheers each other on at the top, those that have reached it, know that it’s those last few steps where people hit their wall and almost give up, and they NEED that encouragement.
We were offered the horses again on the way down. I was confident enough that I could make it down on my own, so I declined the assistance. The trip down as always- was easier than the trip up.
Homemade Peruvian Lunch
When we got to the bottom we were served a homemade authentic Peruvian lunch, and I had no issues stuffing my face this time around. It was, after all, Thanksgiving 🦃
My Peru Crew!
Things to know before you visit Rainbow Mountains in Peru
Our group of 6 did a tour package with Flashpacker Connect. They were awesome, and our guide Johnathon was extremely knowledgeable, and because it was just our group on the tour it was more personalized. Our package was for the 2 day Inca trail hike, 1 day Machu Picchu, and 1 day in the mountains. They provided transportation to and from each expedition, an overnight stay after the Inca trail in the town Aquas Calientes, and a good majority of our meals.
**If you are concerned with the altitude, please consult with your doctor before your hike**
The mountain trek takes place above 4000 meters; the terrain is challenging, and the weather is unpredictable ranging from hot and humid to rain and wind. Hikers should be in reasonable shape, and healthy. Ensure you have the proper gear and be prepared for variable weather conditions throughout the day.
Best Rainbow Mountain tours
If you want
This was the tour that our group went on. We did a full day at rainbow mountain and then the next day we hiked the Inca trail to get to Machu Picchu. I personally thought the rainbow mountain hike was more difficult despite the large gap in distance.
Wondering what to bring on the rainbow mountains hike?
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You May Also Enjoy:
- One Day Guide to Lima, Peru
- Tour to the Humantay Lake – Day Trip from Cusco by A World of Destinations
Dying to visit Peru and these rainbow mountains. Hopefully later this year! And this article is so complete, I’m going to save for the time when I go. Great work!
Thank you so much! I’m glad you found it helpful! That was one of my favorite/most hated hikes I’ve ever done haha Totally worth it!
The mountains look spectacular and what an adventure to get there! I’m looking forward to getting there one day myself.
We were very disappointed we did not get to visit Lima Peru. We sailed for 6 weeks around South America and on our last stop in Lima we were turned away as the pandemic escalated. We definitely would have wanted to take a trip and visit Rainbow Mountain. The colours are simply stunning. I think I might try the horse ride to the peak!
It’s a tough trek, but worth it in the end. I rode the horse up and the last .5 mile to the peak on foot was miserable. I cried on the side of the mountain because I couldn’t breathe and starting going into a panic attack. My fiance was by my side encouraging me as I cried “I can’t do it, I can’t go any higher.” Thank goodness for him 💜🤗 my body stops working anything over 8,000 ft altitude 😂😂
Such an amaaaazing place to hike (even if the altitude makes it harder than you’d expect for that distance/elevation gain.) But I would love love looove to see those crazy rainbow-like views.
It’s funny, normally I find it harder on the way down, but it really sounds the opposite on this hike when every step down brings you closer to oxygen!
I absolutely loved reading this… thank you so much for sharing. Peru is the highest on my bucket list and I can’t wait to go. Awesome photos too
I’m glad I found this page! And this post! The Rainbow has been on our list for a while too! My husband could no doubt do it, me? I’m not so sure, but I really want to! Thank you for the details of the journey. Maybe I will head up to the mountains and train for this. It’s so beautiful, I can’t let him go without me!!
Oh my gosh – it is easily the most beautiful place I have seen on Earth. I can’t recommend it enough. It is a view that very few get to see, and the hard journey up makes you feel strong & accomplished so you’ll appreciate it that much more. I hope you are able to make it one day!
I love Peru and their beautiful people. Been a few times but never been to rainbow mountain – great reminder I need to go.
It looks so unique here, definitely very high up on my bucket list. I can’t wait to travel again, I have wanted to go to Peru for a very long time!
I’d love to visit this place! I only recently learnt about it after seeing photos on Instagram, and now reading this post, it makes me want to go even more! Thanks for sharing.
I’m glad you enjoyed it! Rainbow mountain was on my bucket list 10 years ago 14 years ago when I first started my pinterest account 😂😂
These Rainbow Colored Mountains are truly unique! The landscape looks amazing and the local culture seems very interesting, too. This place is now officially added to my bucket list!
Yeyy!! I hope you make it someday! It is one of the most beautiful places i’ve ever seen.
Wow, congrats on your hike, what an accomplishment! I’d love to get to Peru one day and will definitely come back to this if I work up the nerve to do such a challenging hike!
It’s totally worth it if you go 🌈it’s still one of the most beautiful places i’ve ever seen. I dreamed about going for almost 15 years before I made it. 💜
I’m so impressed you made it all the way up. That’s such an achievement. I don’t think I would be able to, even with a horse! I would panic for sure. How gorgeous are the llamas and alpacas, so cute. I really enjoyed you photos too.
Thanks Tania! I was very proud of myself that day 😂this was a 14 year bucket list item, making it that much better 🌈You could do it! It’s totally worth the views 😍
Totally impressive – not just the awesome views of the rainbow mountains but your stamina to do the hike! The Alpacas look interesting. The food look totally yummy and is well deserved after this tough hike. How was the weather? I would love to visit this place someday! 🙂
The weather was cold and windy due to the altitude! Especially at the top. We visited in November – and everywhere else we visited (Lima, Cusco, Aquas Calientes, Machu Picchu) were much warmer. Food was AMAZING!
For that price, I’d definitely rent a horse too! Man, the colors in those mountains are so mesmerizing. I’d love to see this in person. I wonder how well I would adjust to the altitude if I didn’t acclimate first. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in a situation where I felt sick during my trip.
I would highly suggest acclimating in Cusco for a couple days before visiting.. everyone in my group struggled with it, and got sick from the lack of O2/altitude.
Your photos of the Rainbow mountains are absolutely beautiful and it looks from the photos as the trip of a lifetime however reading the story of your trek had me hyperventilating just thinking about what you were going through. Yes it is a dream to have experienced but I think I am a coward and would not want the anguish of feeling so ill while doing it. I guess the adrenaline kept you going.
hahah 😂 I’m sorry it made you anxious!! It was certainly the highest /hardest hike i’ve ever done. But the rainbow has been on my pinterest bucket list for over 10+ years, so it had to be done 🤗getting off the beaten path and challenging myself to things i’ve never done/thought I could do is one of my favorite parts of traveling 🙂
I think I would rent a horse too! You’re right about the photos making it look less daunting but I can imagine with the altitute it gets pretty rough. Well done for sticking with it though and making it to the top. I don’t think I’v ever seen rocks so colourful, do you know why they’re like that?
It’s the different types of minerals that the mountain is composed of 🙂
What an incredible excursion. So glad you made it to the top despite the altitude sickness – it is really debiliating. I wish I’d known about this excursion when we visited Cusco a few years ago.
Yes, altitude sickness is my arch nemesis. I was sick the whole week we spent in Bolivia due to it too. In Cusco I may have thrown up on the side of a church because of it 😂my body just completly rejects anything over 10k ft/3048 m
Your photos are gorgeous!! I went to Peru, but I didn’t go to Rainbow Mountain. I can’t wait to visit!
I can’t believe how stunning this place is! I’m dying to do it when I visit Peru!
I think you were wise to ride the horse most of the way! And that last quarter mile sounds tough. But what an amazing view you got to enjoy at the top. The Rainbow Mountain looks so beautiful.
I agree!! I’m a big hiker too, we also did the inca trail while we were in Peru – and I had a harder time with rainbow mountain because of the altitude. My body just HATES being above 10,000 ft/3048 m 🙁 I actually got sick on the side of a church in the middle of the city of Cusco lol
I’ve always wanted to go to the Rainbow mountains, and will definitely keep this guide handy!! Thank you! 🙂
Rainbow Mountain looks stunning! It’s absolutely on my bucket list to visit! Also, the llamas and alpacas look adorable! Thanks for the fantastic guide!
This is so high on my bucket list! Really hoping to go here sometime next year, I’ll definitely save this post for when I go 😁 those photos are beautiful!
It is worth the journey, money, difficulty and that feeling of making it to the peak 😍🌈
omgosh the colours of those peaks are amazing, i never knew these existed!!
I never made it here sadly due to the fact that my travel bud had altitude sickness. Your pictures are so lovely and colorful.
I feel your buds pain. My body just forgets how to function once I get over 10,000ft/3048m I got sick on the side of a church the day before in Cusco, and that was at a much lower elevation lol I knew I would have a hard time with it, but I didn’t care. This had been on my bucket list forever!
This is such a dream trip of mine, thanks for sharing! ❤️❤️
Wow, I cannot believe you made it all the way up there without breakfast! The altitude can be super hard on the lungs… but the rainbow mountains look absoltuly stunning. What a great trip that must have been!
I was so sick/nauseous I couldn’t think haha I had been sick the day before in Cusco from the altitude there and rainbow mountains was even higher! It was my dream bucket list trip – so 110% worth every second!
Saving this one! Peru was one of the trips we had to cancel. Someday! 😔
Awesome post on Rainbow Mountian Trek!! I’ve been so curious about Peru and this has convinced me to go!! Love it!
I love the rainbow colors!! Hope to see this some day, great post.
Wow! Just wow! Awesome adventure and beautiful photos. I could feel both your pain and your joy. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Peru and not heard of these rainbow mountains so now I wanna go back!
haha I’m glad I was able to convey those feelings to my readers – that is exactly what it felt like haha I saw a picture of the mountains on pinterest over 10 years ago. They instantly went on my bucket list – just like the salt flats of Bolivia. I’m very privileged to have been able to make it to both 🙂
This looks absolutely amazing! I love the rainbows in the mountains. This really looks like a once in a lifetime experience. Thank you so much for sharing it!
This looks amazing. I’d love to go to Peru and see the alpacas 🙂
Can you stay closer to the mountain to make your hiking day easier? I never had any idea that to get to this place was such hard work. I wish I wasn’t so afraid of horses, as that sounds like a better way to get up the mountain. I would love to visit here.
I do not believe there is any accommodations near the mountain unfortunately. It is in a desolate area very deep into the mountains, and it took about 2 hours to drive there from Cusco. If you are in good shape, take it slow, and acclimate before you go – you will be fine hiking up 🙂 it won’t be easy but it’s because of the lack of O2 more than the difficulty of the hike.
What a beautiful natural wonder! I can’t believe the colors on those mountains. Can’t help but love the animals too! 🦙 Thank you for sharing your experience!
The animals were so adorable 😍 I couldn’t even imagine living somewhere so beautiful as the locals do.
Oh, I am so happy to have found this amazing article with the STUNNING photos. I have ALWAYS wanted to travel to the Rainbow Mountains in Peru! Thanks for taking me on this journey with you, even if it was virtual! Can’t wait till we can travel again. This is at the very top of my bucket list!!!
You will love it!! It was on my bucket list for over 10+ years before I made it there. It’s a longggg journey from home, but 110% worth it.
The mountain looks so gorgeous! I wish we had time to visit Rainbow Mountain when we were in Peru, but hopefully next time! It’s def. on my list 😍
I would love to go back to Peru and explore more. Rainbow mountain is absolutely worth the journey!
I’m so jealous! I spent 2 weeks in Peru but didn’t get to Rainbow Mountain — it’s so gorgeous!
I would love to visit this place, looks unreal! Thank you for sharing!
wow the colors of those mountains are insane! thanks for sharing such beautiful pictures!
That Peruvian lunch looks AMAZING! I would love to visit the rainbow mountains, even though I have asthma! haha
You could take the horse up haha but it is still difficult at the last bit of the hike without the horse. The food was AMAZING
I also had altitude sickness when I was in Peru. Had to go to a doctor as well. I can imagine what you were going through.
It’s the worst right? I threw up in Cusco.. in a very public no foliage area – outside the gates of a giant beautiful church.. talk about a memory 😂😂
I would love to visit here someday! Who wouldn’t want to climb a rainbow mountain surrounded by adorable alpaca’s!!
I definitely think it’s worth the visit if you’re in Peru!
WOW these mountains almost look unreal! I’m bummed I didn’t know about them when I visited Peru. I will definitely put this on my itinerary when I go back!
They had been on my bucket list for almost 10 years! Where did you visit while in Peru?
I have been wanting to go visit here for so long! Your pictures are so beautiful Chelsea, love them!
It it worth the visit when you are in Peru! Thank you for the compliment 😊
It’s pretty clear how this place got it’s name. Those colours are spectacular. What a fabulous experience. We have been to five countries in South America, but not yet to Peru. Rainbow Mountain is now on my bucket list. Thanks.
Yey!! I’m glad you added it. It is soooo worth the visit when you’re in Peru. It’s just a day trip from Cusco 🙂 Which other countries in SA have you visited? Chile & Bolivia were my others.
The colors of the mountains are stunning! I hadn’t heard of this lovely place before. How I would love to visit!
I’m glad I could introduce the two of you! If you ever make it to Peru, it’s just a day trip from Cusco 🙂
Ive been obsessed with Peru recently and need to visit. Rainbow Mountain is on my “have to see” list for when i travel there and ill definitely have to keep this post in mind when i go.
You must make it there if you’re in Peru. It was on my bucket list for 10+ years, and is one of the most beautiful places i’ve seen.
This place is sooooo high on my list! Can’t wait to get back to Peru one day!
It was on mine too, for almost 10 years! It was so amazing to have traveled that far and make it there.
WOW! I’ve always wanted to do the hike up Rainbow Mountain but it certainly looks a tough one so congrats for making it. I bet it felt that little bit more rewarding after the struggle.
It did! Rainbow mountain has been on my bucket list for over 10 years, so there was no way I wasn’t making it to that top 😂 the last .25 mile was SO HARD. We also hiked the inca trail while we were there – I still think rainbow mountain was more difficult lol
Such a beautiful hike.. love your pictures and the peruvian meal.. Yumm!
I love hiking! These pictures are great and it looks like you had a great time! 🙂
Thank you! It was an experience I will never forget.
This looks amaaaaazing! I would love to visit this area! I LOVE how bright the colours are!
Can you stay there overnight to try to acclimatize to the height? I have no idea how i’d cope with that elevation, even though I’m used to hiking and smaller mountains… I’d be up for trying though.
I do not think there is anywhere to stay near the mountain. It was only a few huts/very few local’s that lived in the area. I would recommend acclimating in Cusco for a few days. There are horses that can take you to the top to avoid getting too sick as well.
This sounds like an amazing experience! I very badly want to go to Peru, hopefully when the travel restrictions are lifted. I am nervous about the effects of high altitude though because I have never had to deal with it. I think I would also take the option of having a horse! I’ve heard this area can get busy so it sounds really perfect that you were some of the first people there, even if you did have to wake up super early!
It was worth the early morning for sure! We were able to sleep in the van on the way there to, as it was a couple hours away. I would highly recommend spending a few days in Cusco to try and acclimate before going – I get very bad altitude sickness over 10k ft/3048 m and I had a hard time with it. But… nothing worth having is easy 🙂
Gorgeous! It must be amazing to see in real life. A little gutted that I didn’t think to go when I was in Peru 3 years ago!
ohh nooo 🙁 I hate it when that happens. That’s how I felt about the 3 day tour of the salt flats in Bolivia. We did the 1 day and didn’t get to see the lagunas.
Wow so great to see and read about someone’s experience from the other side of the mountain! we self drove to Rainbow mountain twice! loved it!!
WOW! Really? That’s amazing.. I wasn’t aware that was an option!
I’ve always wanted to go here. I never realized it was such a hike to get there!
You always do such cool trips and invite us to join you with your articles. I am kind of green with envy whilst finishing reading this 😛 Cheers lady 😀
I have heard that there is a limited supply of those horses, do you think you would have tried to walk the whole way if there weren’t any left? I don’t think I would make it on foot. I have only a little bit of altitude problems, but am not in good shape and would probably die of fatigue, lol.
There is definitely a limited number of horses, we were one of the first tours there so luckily there were many left. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have made it if I walked but I damn well would have tried, no way was I missing one of my bucket list items! haha I also have a REALLY hard time with elevation. I was crying, out of breathe, thinking I was going to die just the last .25 mile (the steepest part) we had to walk as it was too high for the horses.
Great pictures Chelsea. While my group was bushwacking through Rusk Mountain on Thanksgiving (just 3680 feet), your group was gasping for air above 14000 feet! Goodness gracious. Your story is wonderful, and something you’ll have for your entire life. Thanks for sharing it.
Thank you for your kind words! I’m glad I wasn’t the only one skipping turkey for mountains ⛰
Chelsea!!! Love your blog! I absolutely love the pictures, amazing shots – great perspective!. This is your calling. You should submit this or try to write for travel magazines, better yet, do a show about travelling. I watch shows like this on Saturday mornings and you could do this! Looking forward to your next adventure!
Thank you Sheila!! You’re so kind, I’m glad you’re enjoying them! I’m having a lot of fun with it!